I used to think that when people didn't use 'the' it was because English wasn't their first language but I know for a fact that the person who said this one is. Is there a rule for that? People sometimes drop the 'a' too for some reason

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    Both constructions are used; I'm not aware of any rule governing when one might be preferred over the other. In my area, it's more common to hear ... notify the police ... – Jeff Zeitlin Oct 12 '17 at 15:30
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    See ELL's "police said" - why not "the police said"? although opinions and usage differ. This is an area of English that is undergoing change and usage is not uniform or consistent. – AmE speaker Oct 12 '17 at 15:48
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    See also the exterior link Police or the Police for a more uniform approach. But undercover speakers of English may differ. – AmE speaker Oct 12 '17 at 15:55
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    @Clare Arresting use of the vernacular. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '17 at 16:43

They can be used mostly interchangeably. The phrasing notify police treats police as a concept or entity, meaning the organization which calls themselves 'police' were not notified.

Alternatively, notify the police treats police more as a group of individuals in my mind.

The more thought I'm giving this, however, the more narrow that distinction seems. I might choose between the two to make the sentence flow better, or to imply some regional/class language differences. However, the difference in actual meaning seems too small to worry about.

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    This isn't the true story either. Nobody would say 'You'd better phone police.' – Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '17 at 16:44
  • it's part of the story, though. dropping the article happens a lot in news writing and it definitely seems like it's creating a tone where police is an abstract entity. – mendota Oct 12 '17 at 19:00

It is correct to use "police" with no article as it is done in the news all the time. In fact, it seems to greatly outnumber the times "police" is used with an article (at least in the news).

To test this, I searched the NOW (News On the Web) corpus for the 100 most recent occurrences of the word "police". (Some of these occurrences weren't relevant to the matter at hand because they were adjectives.) All the results were from American newspapers.

Search for yourself here. These are some of the results that I got, ranging from local to national newspapers:

  • Yes but (a) the terms are not interchangeable and (b) there still seems to be a difference in meaning between police and the police in some contexts (you are quoting only newspapers) and a more robust answer might discuss this. – AmE speaker Oct 12 '17 at 16:58
  • For example, after I've called 911 I'm only ever going to say to another person I've called the police, not I've called police. To me the police = the police department but what then does police refer to in journalistic accounts? – AmE speaker Oct 12 '17 at 17:00
  • some of those snippets look like adjectives, so it would make sense to drop the article on those. but the others sound like a kind of abstract, faceless tone or mood put on the word police. you say According to police, but don't name the officer and you take away the concreteness of the police by dropping the article. i'd be curious to hear a journalist's take on this bit of newswriting.. – mendota Oct 12 '17 at 18:58

You must never fail to notify the police.

The police is the correct way to use police when it's a noun.

Failure to police is an example of police used as a verb.

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